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MSI Big Bang Fuzion: Pulling The Covers Off Of Lucid’s Hydra Tech

It Began With A Bang!

I’ve never designed, marketed, and then tried to sell my own product before, but I’d like to imagine that if I did, I’d start by considering the number of potential customers who’d line up to pay me for what I was offering. Perhaps that’s why I’m so amazed to see a technology I first saw in action more than a year ago—LucidLogix’s Hydra distributed processing engine—productized in MSI’s Big Bang Fuzion motherboard.

But take a look at last month’s Steam hardware survey. A full 2.67% of respondents were running multi-GPU systems, and within that subset, 90% were utilizing SLI. For as big of a splash as we make over running two, three, or four graphics cards next to each other in gaming machines here on Tom’s Hardware, very few end users actually follow suit. Of those that do, a staggering number seem to be using GeForce cards.

Ah, but what fortunate timing for a company offering the ability to mix and match GPU models—vendor-agnostically—on the same motherboard. ATI is on top, and there’s almost certainly a contingent of GeForce GTX 200-series owners who wouldn’t mind an Eyefinity-equipped Radeon HD 5850 nudging their GTX 260 along.

Or maybe the 63% of gamers running Nvidia-based GPUs are fiercely brand loyal, and would rather add in a GeForce GTX 285 now that prices have come down a bit. Can’t do that with SLI unless you have a second GTX 285 installed. But the magic of Lucid’s technology is the freedom to use a GeForce GTX 260 next to a GTX 285. Or run a Radeon HD 4870 next to a Radeon HD 5850. Or—get this—drop a Radeon HD 5870 into a gaming machine next to a GeForce GTX 275.

The list of possible combinations is dizzying. And that’s another reason I’m so surprised Lucid and MSI were able to come together, showing off a platform that purports to do multi-GPU better than ATI and Nvidia, the former with five years of retail hardware supporting its CrossFire technology and the latter with six years worth of SLI-class gear.

Overcoming Challenges

Naturally, everyone we’ve seen preview Lucid’s technology has expressed skepticism. An advance this huge from a relatively small company’s rookie effort is fairly unprecedented. We’re more used to failures on the magnitude of Alienware’s Video Array, 3dfx’s Voodoo 5 6000, and BitBoys’ Glaze3D. So when a company tells you they can do something better than the two market leaders, you tend to look hard for signs they’re too good to be true.

But when Lucid flew in to visit from Israel, accompanied by MSI North America, it was more than willing to answer questions and clarify some of the issues that had been hovering over its hardware/software technology since first debuting as a demonstration at IDF in '08.

Call it CrossLI or SLFire--either way, that's a 5870 and GTX 285 running together.

Perhaps the most material obstacle that MSI will face in selling its Fuzion motherboard with the Hydra ASIC on-board is pricing. The company’s Trinergy, which belongs to the same Big Bang family and is armed with Nvidia’s nForce 200 bridge, is available for pre-order at $349. That’s well beyond the price of an X58-based platform, which natively gives you support for two 16-lane PCI Express 2.0 slots. MSI expects its Fuzion to sell for the same price—far more palpable if Lucid’s Hydra delivers on its promises. But even then, how many of the gamers constituting the 2.67% on Steam’s survey are willing to sink $350 on a P55 platform for the freedom to mix and match graphics cards?

Sounds like a question for the comments section. In the meantime, let’s look at how Windows 7 has changed the story for Lucid and how the company intends to QA two different vendors’ GPUs to keep its supporting software as up to date as ATI and Nvidia.